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Bibliographers examine the lives of texts to unlock new understandings of our global cultural heritage.

  • Cuneiform tablet of a private letter (Anatolia, ca. 20th–19th century BCE). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Sampwutteahae Quinnuppekompauaenin is an Algonquian-language translation of a popular English catechism The Sincere Convert: Discovering the Small Number of True Beleevers, and the Great Difficulty of Saving Conversion, first published in London in 1641. Here, the title page gives credit to Thomas Shepard, the English author of Sincere Convert, and to John Eliot and Grindal Rawson for the translation work, though several Native interpreters would have been involved in the work of translating the text.

    Sampwutteahae Quinnuppekompauaenin (Cambridge, MA: Samuel Green, 1689). American Antiquarian Society.

  • Flyer for a radio show on WHBI by D.J. Nap!

    “D. J. Nap! WHBI 105.9FM” (New York, n.d.). Image provided under an educational license by Cornell University Library.

  • Photograph showing an Apple II computer, with the screen, keyboard, and disk ports visible.

    Apple II computer (ca. 1977). CC BY-SA image by Rama of an item in the Musée Bolo.

  • Type specimen showing twenty, sixteen, and twelve lines gothic.

    “Twenty, sixteen, and twelve lines gothic,” Specimen of Leavenworth’s patent wood type (Allentown, NJ: 1840–1849). New York Public Library.

  • D-cylinder copperplate press, with attached inking table and hanging counterweight for the bed return. Late 19th century. Bed (working part) 14x20-1/2, cylinder diameter 6.

    Kelton D-cylinder press (New York, ca. 1900). National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

  • Orange, yellow, green, and ivory striped textile chemise covering the binding of the Gondar Homiliary.

    Zämänfäs Qeddus, Gondar Homiliary (Ethiopia, late 17th century). The Walters Art Museum.

  • Ostracon with Lines from Homer’s Iliad “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’s son,” the opening line of the Iliad, is written four times, probably as a school exercise in writing cursive Greek. Other lines from Homer are found on other ostraca.

    Ostrakon with lines from Homer’s Iliad (Coptic, 580–640). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Pixelated image of a flower, with a black circle at the center surrounded by five outlines of petals. 6394 at the bottom of the image.

    Watermark of a flower (Briquet 6394; Bamberg?, 1446). Briquet Online.

  • Microfilmed image of an opening from a 9th-century Syriac manuscript from Mount Sinai.

    Microfilm of Syriac Manuscripts 59, Homilies on St. John (filmed 1950; manuscript 9th century). St Catherine’s Library, Mt. Sinai, and Library of Congress.

  • Leaf 194 of the manuscript text for The Bondswoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts.

    Hannah Crafts, The Bondswoman’s Narrative (ca. 1853–1861). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

  • Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius (Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, 1610). Library of Congress.

  • Printed diagram labeled

    Scriptores rei militaris, Strategematica (Bologna: Francesco Benedetti, 1495–1496). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Two punch cards. One card is white on both sides. The other is tan on one side and grayish-brown on the other. Each card has round holes at both ends, as well as two rows of round holes in the middle. There also are cuts in the top and bottom edges.

    Punch cards in the style of Charles Babbage (Italy, ca. 1840) National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute.

  • Newspaper printing plate for comics page (n.p., 17 July 1976). CC BY-NC image by Glenn Fleishman.

  • Image of the front cover of Africa by Emil Schulthess. ReCAP and barcode stickers are visible.

    Emil Schulthess, Africa (Simon and Schuster, 1959). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

  • Front pastedown and free endpapers showing the pasted down Schomburg Center bookplate on the left and shelf mark on the right. Stamped

    Jean Ketchum, Stick-in-the-Mud: A tale of a village, a custom, and a little boy (W. R. Scott, 1953). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

  • Micrographic design in the shape of a spiral. The text of the micrographic design is written in cursive Latin and starts with the words 'Miserere mei Deus (...)'. Part of an album of 26 examples of calligraphy and micrography, thought to have been produced in France or possibly Antwerp at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

    Micrographic design in the shape of a spiral (France or Belgium, early 17th century). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Typographical collage.

    “Femme!” 291, no. 9 (November 1915). New York Public Library.

  • Binding of gold-sprinkled pink paper over pasteboard with central lobed gold-tooled medallion dating to the late 11th century AH/AD 17th or the 12th century AH/AD 18th.

    Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Prayer book (Turkey, 17th century). The Walters Art Museum.

  • An image of text in Arabic.

    Ibn al-Nafis, Compendium of the Canon of Medicine (Cairo, ca. 1240–1288) Qatar National Library via the Library of Congress.

  • Opening of My tiny alphabet book, showing

    My tiny alphabet book (Glasgow: David Bryce & Son, ca. 1900–1930). Royal Collection Trust.

  • Codex Mendoza detail (Mexico, ca. 1541). CC BY-NC image from Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

  • Title page of the Nuremberg Chronicle.

    Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Mainz: Erhard Reuwich, 1486). Library of Congress.

  • Printed text with printed glosses and manuscript annotations.

    Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae (Cologne: Heinrich Quentell, 1497). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Embroidered binding (c.1639) of white satin with figures of David and Goliath's head on front and David with sling on back cover; gilt and gauffered edges, long green satin tie.

    Thomas Sternhold, The whole booke of Psalmes (London: John Legat, 1639). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • a brown leather binding with brass bosses on the four corners and a chain at top

    Thomas à Kempis, Opera et libri (Nuremberg: Kaspar Hochfeder, 1489). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • This patent model demonstrates an invention for a compact rotary press with forms for printing both sides of the paper, mounted on the two ends of a single type cylinder.

    Patent model for a web perfecting rotary press (Luther C. Crowell, ca. 1879). National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

  • Two-page spread showing woodcut prints of left and write hands, with parts of the hands labeled. Hand colored, yellow background with reddish and green colored sleeves below the hands.

    Stephen Fridolin, Schatzbehalter der wahren Reichtumer des Heils (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1491). The Walters Art Museum.

  • An engraved yellow watch paper, with the name of Bond & Son of Boston at the center.

    Bond & Son watch paper (Boston, ca. 1840). American Antiquarian Society.

  • Front pastedown and free endpapers showing the pasted down Schomburg Center bookplate on the left and shelf mark on the right. Stamped

    Jean Ketchum, Stick-in-the-Mud: A tale of a village, a custom, and a little boy (W. R. Scott, 1953). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

  • Micrographic design in the shape of a spiral. The text of the micrographic design is written in cursive Latin and starts with the words 'Miserere mei Deus (...)'. Part of an album of 26 examples of calligraphy and micrography, thought to have been produced in France or possibly Antwerp at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

    Micrographic design in the shape of a spiral (France or Belgium, early 17th century). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Typographical collage.

    “Femme!” 291, no. 9 (November 1915). New York Public Library.

  • Binding of gold-sprinkled pink paper over pasteboard with central lobed gold-tooled medallion dating to the late 11th century AH/AD 17th or the 12th century AH/AD 18th.

    Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, Prayer book (Turkey, 17th century). The Walters Art Museum.

  • An image of text in Arabic.

    Ibn al-Nafis, Compendium of the Canon of Medicine (Cairo, ca. 1240–1288) Qatar National Library via the Library of Congress.

  • Opening of My tiny alphabet book, showing

    My tiny alphabet book (Glasgow: David Bryce & Son, ca. 1900–1930). Royal Collection Trust.

  • Codex Mendoza detail (Mexico, ca. 1541). CC BY-NC image from Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

  • Title page of the Nuremberg Chronicle.

    Hartmann Schedel, Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Mainz: Erhard Reuwich, 1486). Library of Congress.

  • Printed text with printed glosses and manuscript annotations.

    Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae (Cologne: Heinrich Quentell, 1497). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Embroidered binding (c.1639) of white satin with figures of David and Goliath's head on front and David with sling on back cover; gilt and gauffered edges, long green satin tie.

    Thomas Sternhold, The whole booke of Psalmes (London: John Legat, 1639). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • a brown leather binding with brass bosses on the four corners and a chain at top

    Thomas à Kempis, Opera et libri (Nuremberg: Kaspar Hochfeder, 1489). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • This patent model demonstrates an invention for a compact rotary press with forms for printing both sides of the paper, mounted on the two ends of a single type cylinder.

    Patent model for a web perfecting rotary press (Luther C. Crowell, ca. 1879). National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

  • Two-page spread showing woodcut prints of left and write hands, with parts of the hands labeled. Hand colored, yellow background with reddish and green colored sleeves below the hands.

    Stephen Fridolin, Schatzbehalter der wahren Reichtumer des Heils (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1491). The Walters Art Museum.

  • An engraved yellow watch paper, with the name of Bond & Son of Boston at the center.

    Bond & Son watch paper (Boston, ca. 1840). American Antiquarian Society.

  • Cuneiform tablet of a private letter (Anatolia, ca. 20th–19th century BCE). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Sampwutteahae Quinnuppekompauaenin is an Algonquian-language translation of a popular English catechism The Sincere Convert: Discovering the Small Number of True Beleevers, and the Great Difficulty of Saving Conversion, first published in London in 1641. Here, the title page gives credit to Thomas Shepard, the English author of Sincere Convert, and to John Eliot and Grindal Rawson for the translation work, though several Native interpreters would have been involved in the work of translating the text.

    Sampwutteahae Quinnuppekompauaenin (Cambridge, MA: Samuel Green, 1689). American Antiquarian Society.

  • Flyer for a radio show on WHBI by D.J. Nap!

    “D. J. Nap! WHBI 105.9FM” (New York, n.d.). Image provided under an educational license by Cornell University Library.

  • Photograph showing an Apple II computer, with the screen, keyboard, and disk ports visible.

    Apple II computer (ca. 1977). CC BY-SA image by Rama of an item in the Musée Bolo.

  • Type specimen showing twenty, sixteen, and twelve lines gothic.

    “Twenty, sixteen, and twelve lines gothic,” Specimen of Leavenworth’s patent wood type (Allentown, NJ: 1840–1849). New York Public Library.

  • D-cylinder copperplate press, with attached inking table and hanging counterweight for the bed return. Late 19th century. Bed (working part) 14x20-1/2, cylinder diameter 6.

    Kelton D-cylinder press (New York, ca. 1900). National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

  • Orange, yellow, green, and ivory striped textile chemise covering the binding of the Gondar Homiliary.

    Zämänfäs Qeddus, Gondar Homiliary (Ethiopia, late 17th century). The Walters Art Museum.

  • Ostracon with Lines from Homer’s Iliad “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’s son,” the opening line of the Iliad, is written four times, probably as a school exercise in writing cursive Greek. Other lines from Homer are found on other ostraca.

    Ostrakon with lines from Homer’s Iliad (Coptic, 580–640). The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Pixelated image of a flower, with a black circle at the center surrounded by five outlines of petals. 6394 at the bottom of the image.

    Watermark of a flower (Briquet 6394; Bamberg?, 1446). Briquet Online.

  • Microfilmed image of an opening from a 9th-century Syriac manuscript from Mount Sinai.

    Microfilm of Syriac Manuscripts 59, Homilies on St. John (filmed 1950; manuscript 9th century). St Catherine’s Library, Mt. Sinai, and Library of Congress.

  • Leaf 194 of the manuscript text for The Bondswoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts.

    Hannah Crafts, The Bondswoman’s Narrative (ca. 1853–1861). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

  • Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius (Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, 1610). Library of Congress.

  • Printed diagram labeled

    Scriptores rei militaris, Strategematica (Bologna: Francesco Benedetti, 1495–1496). Folger Shakespeare Library.

  • Two punch cards. One card is white on both sides. The other is tan on one side and grayish-brown on the other. Each card has round holes at both ends, as well as two rows of round holes in the middle. There also are cuts in the top and bottom edges.

    Punch cards in the style of Charles Babbage (Italy, ca. 1840) National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute.

  • Newspaper printing plate for comics page (n.p., 17 July 1976). CC BY-NC image by Glenn Fleishman.

  • Image of the front cover of Africa by Emil Schulthess. ReCAP and barcode stickers are visible.

    Emil Schulthess, Africa (Simon and Schuster, 1959). Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

The Bibliographical Society of America is a membership organization that has fostered the study of books and other textual artifacts since 1904.

What is bibliography?

What is bibliography if not a list of books? Bibliography is much more than your “works cited” page. As a field of inquiry, bibliography examines the artifactual value of texts – including books, manuscripts, and digital texts – and how they reflect the people and cultures that created, acquired, and exchanged them. Bibliographers study the technologies used to carry texts to readers, valuing the close physical analysis of material artifacts and the social and economic systems that disperse texts in all their various forms around the globe.

  • An image of watermarked paper, watermark reading "Joseph Coles 1806"

    Chain lines are the impressions of the wires running along the wooden ribs of a paper mould which support the thinner wires forming the base of the mould. The impressions of these thinner wires, running at right angles to the chain lines, are known as wire lines. Chain and wire lines are frequently used in bibliographical studies to distinguish paper stocks or to identify papermakers. Studying the orientation of wire and chain lines can also help you determine format in books printed on laid paper. Watch this video for an explanation of wires and chains on a real paper mould!

    Watermarks are wire designs sewn into the paper mould which identify the manufacturer of the paper stock. Their positions can be used to determine the format of books, and they are often useful in dating paper, as the designs changed over time. In this example, the image shows one half of the sheet; Joseph Coles is the name of the paper manufacturer.

    Reference works can be of great use in identifying watermarks and their manufacturers. For an English examples like this one, Gravell, Thomas L., and George Miller. A Catalogue of Foreign Watermarks Found on Paper Used in America 1700-1835. New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1979.

    Looking at Paper
  • A lion resting his head in one front paw and his other front paw on a cane is seated at a table. He wears a bandage on his head and a stag pendant around his neck. He is beset by a cloud of flies. There are three monkeys gathered around him, one of which is standing on the table and holding a spider to his neck. A rabbit sits under the table. A fox is holding up a vial which has a small horned and winged creature inside, and writing something. On the table are various bottles and containers. On the floor before the table is a crown, a broken scepter and sword, and two documents with seals.

    This image was made by an engraver and printed by a rolling press printer using special techniques and materials that cannot be found in a letterpress print shop. Usually, letterpress text is printed first and the printed sheets with blank spaces for images will be delivered to the rolling press printer for production. Yet another craftsman would be needed for binding.

    Etchings like this one were printed from flat copper plates, the faint outline of which is visible here. These outlines are called “plate marks” and can help readers today understand and identify the materials used to create a printed image.

    Anonymous print production is a common occurrence, especially when content is political, as it is in this broadside. (See the Folger catalog entry to learn more about the political content.) Neither the lettterpress printer who printed the text, nor the artist who designed the image, nor the draftsman who etched it, nor the rolling press printer who printed the etching on this print are known.

    Text and image: How were they printed together?

Membership

Photograph of Dorothy Porter Wesley instructing manuscript staff: Thomas Battle, Evelyn Brooks-Barnett and Denise Glelin, Howard University

Photograph of Dorothy Porter Wesley instructing manuscript staff: Thomas Battle, Evelyn Brooks-Barnett and Denise Glelin, Howard University

Nourish your bibliographical practice by joining the BSA. Our members form a community of scholars, students, collectors, curators, booksellers, and librarians who uplift bibliographical teaching, learning, and scholarship across disciplines. Specially curated member-only benefits support your bibliographical practice. Join today!

Consider making a contribution to our Annual Fund to help secure a vibrant future for the study of the material text.